ARTS AS ACTIVISM: APAP's 61st Annual Global Performing Arts Gathering in NYC Focuses on Activism

ARTS AS ACTIVISM: APAP's 61st Annual Global Performing Arts Gathering in NYC Focuses on Activism
Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram

By Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram
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Published on January 29, 2018
APAP 2018 Sunday Plenary with Keryl McCord; Photo: Adam Kissick

Building Bridges Not Walls/ Discomfort is the Sound of Things Shifting/ Humor Conquers Fear

Association of Performing Arts Professional (APAP)'s 61st Annual Global Performing Arts Gathering took place January 12-16, 2018 in New York for the primary purpose of booking company tours, exchanging ideas about innovation within the field, AND in this year of dire straits  — ACTIVISM.
Ann Carlson, all in black, stands in front of her symphonic body chorus who are seated and also wearing black.
Ann Carlson and The Symphonic Body; Photo: Adam Kissick

Sunday, January 14, Hilton Grand Ballroom 

For the kick-off of APAP's first ever town hall on arts as activism, Ann Carlson conducted her own eleven-minute work “The Symphonic Body,” which was performed by a group comprised of APAP administrative staff and members. Described in The New York Times by writer William Harris as a conceptual artist who "uses gesture, text and humor to break your heart,” Carlson had her orchestra perform movements commonly seen in any office: typing, gesticulating, and chatting. The orchestra, generally remained facing the audience, except for one woman who sat on her back to fling her legs in the air.  At times, swinging their legs, torsos, and arms to the right and then slowly twisting themselves around to examine us, they seemed to ask “Yessss, may I help you?” 
First out to rouse the crowd after this spotlight on the daily dance of managers was Keryl McCord, CEO of Equity Quotient, a non-profit that empowers artists, cultural organizers, and those interested in learning more about the history, stories, policies, practices, and systems that undergird race and racism in the US. She prompted a circle of storytelling with: Ping Chong, writer and director of Socially Engaged Theater; Tanya Selvaratnam, co-founder of The Federationa new coalition of artists and organizations committed to keeping cultural borders open; Lauren Ruffin, VP of external relations at Fractured Atlas, a service organization; and Sean Dorsey, artistic director of Sean Dorsey Dance  who is notably the nation’s first transgender contemporary dance choreographer. 
McCord, a charismatic black woman dressed all in white, asked each participant how they came to see themselves as activists and recommended that they, “listen deeply. Don’t anticipate how you will answer the question, and don’t challenge the speakers.” While all the participants were fascinating, Dorsey was most memorable. At first abashed when he realized his work made people uncomfortable, he rejoiced that he had found his calling. “Discomfort is the sound of things shifting.” 
Arthur Mitchell, looking dapper in a plaid suit smiles from the camera as he stands at a podium.
Arthur Mitchell at the 2018 APAP Awards; Photo: Adam Kissick

Monday, January 15, Hilton Grand Ballroom 

It felt as though Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream” reverberated throughout the APAP Annual Awards Ceremony, particularly set-off by the call for optimism and perseverance from the Canadian poet, actor, and youth advocate, Ahmed “Knowmadic." Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, introduced Arthur Mitchell, winner of the Award of Merit for Achievement in the Performing Arts. King's death in 1968 compelled Mitchell to return to Harlem to focus on arts as activism and establish the groundbreaking Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook.  At age 83, Mitchell engaged the audience with tales of his current projects, exclaiming that, “art makes it possible to have justice in this world.” While discussing the current exhibit at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University that celebrates his life as a trailblazer, he said,"I had forgotten I had done all that." 
Accepting the Presenter Award of the year, Brett Batterson, CEO of Orpheum Theatre Group, said he hoped everyone was looking for a Haitian singer to present. Tellingly he gave no explanation why, because he assumed that everyone in the conference need not be reminded. He urged that we build bridges, not walls. Pamela M. Green, CEO of PMG Arts Management, winner of this year's Liz Silverstein Award for Agent-Manager, recommended that everyone — artists, teachers, and administrators — take the time to give affirmation to whom it's due, and to fight for racial equity. She thanked her mother, a nurse, who taught her how to care.
The William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement in Programming was given to Bill Bragin, Isabel Soffer and Shanta Thake, co-directors of globalFEST, a world music service organization that grew from an acclaimed festival/showcase into a catalytic non-profit helping curators, artists, and the performing arts field. The Sidney R. Yates Award was given to Carlton Turner, executive director of Southern-based Alternate ROOTS, an organization that supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in communities of place, tradition, or spirit. The “Distinguished Service Award” was presented by Mikki Shepard, last year's Service Award Winner, the original founder and executive producer of Brooklyn’s 651Arts, and now, an independent arts consultant and a writer, and given to Ann Rosenthal and Cathy Zimmerman, co-founders of MaPP International Productions, which they began in 1994 and closed in June 30, 2017. The founders "see art as the spark for igniting conversation and change in communities worldwide." They remembered with great fondness the risks and adventures they had fulfilling their mission.
Bassem Youssef in a suit and tie stands at a podium in front of a gold curtain to address an audience.
Bassem Youssef at the APAP 2018 Closing Plenary; Photo: Adam Kissick

Tuesday, January 16, Hilton Trianon Ballroom

APAP|NYC 2018 closed with the dashing, Egyptian-born satirist Bassem Youssef, a former heart surgeon, who continues to be surprised by his evolution to a producer-comedian. Given President Trump's statements about sh*thole countries, he asked one of the Signers (all of whom were captivating) "what is the sign for Sh*thole?" 

Youssef calls humor a third language, because the understanding of its intent is more important than the literal translation of its words. "Fear sells," he reminded. "Authorities hate humor because it makes people laugh, and when they laugh, they forget their fear."

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